‘We will see cases:’ UA prepares for phased-in fall semester

Updated: Aug. 19, 2020 at 10:55 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - “There will be spikes. We will see cases.”

That’s what University of Arizona President Dr. Robert Robbins stressed Wednesday afternoon, Aug. 19.

The question: Can the university handle what could happen on campus as we continue to track the spread of COVID-19?

Hundreds of students are expected to continue moving into dorms on campus through the rest of the week. The university’s phased-in reopening plan and fall semester begins Monday, Aug. 24.

“We are all in a testing phase, it’s a big experiment as we move along,” said Dr. Richard Carmona, director of the UA Reentry Task Force.

Carmona and Robbins said success of the semester will weigh heavily on the actions and common health practices of students, staff and faculty.

“For the privilege of keeping your university open, you have to do that with all of your activities,” said Carmona.

While the “test” doesn’t necessarily have an answer key, Carmona said the university does have a study guide, of sorts. Over the summer, about 600 labs were open for research with thousands of students and staff members on campus. He didn’t track any major issues with actions in place.

“It tells us that at least what we put in place seems to be working,” said Carmona.

As many adjust to the ‘new’ normal on campus, a number of measures have been implemented to help mitigate the risk for COVID-19. Chris Kopach, UArizona assistant vice president for Facilities Management, said the main UArizona campus has been divided into 10 zones, with Facilities Management staff dedicated to each of those areas.

Kopach shared other changes that have been made on campus:

  • The university Carpenter Shop has fabricated 1,329 sneeze guards, which have been installed across campus.
  • Thousands of touch-free paper towel dispensers and hand sanitizer dispensers have been installed across campus.
  • More than 5,000 spray bottles of disinfectant have been issued to faculty, staff and researchers. The bottles can be dropped off with Facilities Management for refills every evening.
  • A number of tents are being set up at the Student Union Memorial Center, Student Recreation Center and other locations on campus to provide shaded multipurpose outdoor areas.
  • Signage has been posted across campus encouraging physical distancing and adherence to the university’s face covering mandate and other CDC guidelines.

“We have cleaned our buildings for health for other 15 years,” said Kopach.

Kopach added that custodial staff members have undergone training on isolation procedures, and they are equipped to respond within one hour to reports of COVID-19 cases on campus to clean and disinfect the area.

[ UArizona releases COVID tracking app ]

While disinfectant helps, data will be the driving factor in decision making. Robbins said it won’t just be about counting COVID-19 cases, but tracking compliance of health mandates and the capacity to treat anyone who may get sick. The university does have an isolation dorm available for students who contract the virus.

If there is a major spike, Robbins said the university could shift to fully online, like other colleges across the country that have experienced outbreaks.

“We can’t tell people what to do, we can strongly encourage them,” said Robbins.

For Robbins, his concern isn’t set on “controlled spaces” around campus, but is more on the activities that college students generally take part in off-campus, like drinking or events.

“If we have major outbreaks, that’s what will get us. It’s human behavior,” said Robbins. “I will continue, every chance I get to advocate to Governor Ducey - please keep the bars closed.”

Masks or face coverings are required inside campus buildings. If a student refuses, Robbins said there will be warnings and Code of Conduct violations reported to the Dean of Students. If the violator is an employee, a notification will be sent to his or her supervisor.

“The question is, can we care for those cases, can we adequately contact trace, can we isolate and get our students, faculty and staff through these invariable waves we will face in the coming weeks and months? That’s going to be the be the big question and Monday, we’ll get it started and we’ll find out,” said Robbins.

As of Wednesday, UArizona reported 15 positive COVID-19 cases through its “Test All, Test Smart” initiative. That is campus-wide PCR and Antigen testing.

Copyright 2020 KOLD News 13. All rights reserved.